One of the first things I noticed after I’d settled into my apartment in Albuquerque was the sense of endless, frenetic motion. To a greater or lesser extent, all urban environments have this variety of energy, but it was something that edged its way under my skin in short order. The sound of the freeway just beyond a wall was endless. The wind, the noise, the bottomless well of human chatter. I thought I would never grow accustomed to it. But,as with almost everything else we encounter, if you live with anything long enough, it becomes a part of your background.
Moments of Stillness
With time, I grew used to the motion of Albuquerque. In honesty, it’s not one of the busiest cities I’ve ever encountered. Quite the contrary, since the population itself is relatively low. Many parts of the city seem to roll in on themselves after 10 p.m., like some strange, diurnal blossom. However, I grew acutely aware of my need for stillness and solitude as the months passed. Much like water, I learned that it could be found, but I had to know how to see it, how to listen for it.
The stillness I sought wasn’t simply an absence of traffic or a time of day. What I craved was that sense of indrawn breath, when everything seems to hang in perfect balance.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust
My experience of these instants is embedded in other sense memory, recollections that have become a part of me and continue to shape how I meet the world. I remember walking to the grocery store at dusk, and catching sight of a bank of clouds illuminated by the setting sun. Their beauty was intense enough to inspire physical pain, a longing within me. If I could have drunk the moment, I would have.
The Indrawn Breath
Standing on a corner of Central Avenue one evening, I watched a river of headlights flowing past me, the cars’ details fading to shadow as they drove through the canyon of night. Above, the ubiquitous city pigeons wheeled and fluttered, parabolic in their flight. They seemed locked in a tidal dance with their shadows on the sides of buildings still lit by the last, molten daylight. I stood and watched them as they merged with and parted from their shadow twins, only to return.
Walking home from the Tractor brewery on Central one night, after I’d stayed far longer than I’d planned, I paused on a curb. To my left, traffic flowed. To my right, darkened houses slept. From somewhere nearby, there was the smell of laundry–the clean yet murky scent of water and fabric softener. I stood for a few more moments, and in a fit of synesthesia, I listened to that smell. It was domestic, and spoke to me of homely tasks. This was stillness, too, in a way.
Then, there were the winters. This is a season that rests, in a way, no matter where you live. In Albuquerque, I took to waiting for the first spark of the day on my porch, no matter how bitterly cold the weather. First, there was a paling of the eastern sky, although the stars stood stark until night was truly gone. I would sit in my best imitation of stillness, suppressing violent trembling and holding my coffee mug between my gloved hands.
The Sandia Mountains spread along the Eastern edge of the city, and were unrealistic–two-dimensional, like black paper with a torn upper edge. Slowly, the light would pour upwards, blue fading to pelucid greens and yellows. Then, if there were any clouds, their underbellies were lit with increasingly electric hues of red, pink, purple, and gold. These moments are a bit like children. I remember every dawn I witnessed; not because they were few, but because when we watch something being born, it stays with us forever.